Tales from the trenches…#StupidInterviewQuestions

We love to compare notes about the most inane and perplexing behavior out there in the workplace. After all, the workplace is a microcosm of society, with all of society’s personalities and quirks represented. This is the first installment of a new series called “Tales from the trenches,” in which I share a particularly fascinating (and usually rife with stupidity) story I’ve heard. Today’s episode takes place during an interview, which is fertile ground for such stories to breed. Read on:


I was interviewing with a senior HR person for a new position in my field. I had already passed the initial phone screen with a less senior HR person and the initial phone interview with the hiring manager along with an IQ/personality test.  I think it was pretty well-established that I was a good candidate. In the course of my in-person interview, she asked me to explain my 2.66 undergrad GPA.  It’s worth noting that I graduated college over 20 years ago and have had great career progression in the intervening decades.  I am also 2-3 classes away from finishing my MBA…with a 3.9 GPA. 

I responded that college was a long time ago and that, as an 18-year-old, I had difficulty adjusting to life away from home. In hindsight, I didn’t really owe her any explanation because the question was stupid.  I suggested that instead of focusing on my performance as a “kid” she might want to consider my current academic achievements instead, which is balanced with a family and a full-time career.  I got the sense that she didn’t like my answer, but I didn’t lose sleep over it. What I did lose was a day of PTO!

So much to unpack here. Let’s start with the obvious—and this is one of my huge pet peeves—the interviewer wasted this candidate’s time by focusing on things that Do Not Matter. The undergraduate GPA of a candidate with decades of experience Does Not Matter.  (In fact, there is no evidence that proves a correlation between GPA and career success, or GPA and IQ, or GPA and emotional intelligence.) What matters are things like attitude, compatibility with company culture, and history of career results.

I also have to inquire as to why this is even a question that a senior HR person would ask. Clearly, she was the first one in the process who thought that it was relevant. Who remembers their undergraduate GPA anyway? The important thing is that the degree was conferred. That’s it. The candidate absolutely did not owe this interviewer any explanation for such a stupid question.

Of course, I can tell you countless anecdotes of people who performed at a mediocre level in school and who have gone on to achieve exceptional success. The person who barely graduated high school who is now a published, peer-reviewed research scientist. The English major who put forth minimal effort turned in every assignment late who now runs a magazine. The engineering major who failed calculus because the class was too early who now holds several patents. These stories are innumerable. This is yet another example of both #LazyHiring and #StupidInterviewQuestions. This is exactly why companies need to train people on how to conduct interviews. What was your undergraduate GPA? Mercy.


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